Features

Published: Monday April 22, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday April 26, 2013 MYT 12:30:28 AM

Teeny stars on parade

As if headlines featuring Britney, Lindsay and Miley aren’t nettling enough, now there’s a new talent show targeting younger children.

THERE’S something about watching a pint-sized 10-year-old cutie singing about love, and all things adult. It’s disquieting.

Worrying still are parents who encourage them to do so, despite the oft-told cautionary tales that are Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus. And don’t even get me started on Justin Bieber and that recent inappropriate entry in the guestbook of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.

OK, fine. When I was eight I, too, desperately wanted to be Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA. I even fashioned “waist-length blond hair” by throwing on a large, yellow bath towel on my head and securing it there with hairpins for private “performances” before my audience of teddy bears and kari masak sets.

However, despite my active participation in stage activities throughout my school years, my dad warned me that if I were to pursue this option, he’d disown me.

While this may sound cruel and extreme today, in hindsight I understand that he meant well. After all, there is a time and place for everything. And there is a time for a child to simply be a child.

This is not to say that children gifted in areas other than academia shouldn’t be encouraged and nurtured from young. It’s just the nature of the means that is sometimes questionable. For instance, prematurely thrusting them under the spotlight of an “awwwing” audience in a televised talent show.

German terrestrial television recently unveiled its latest ratings grabber, called The Voice Kids, the dinky version of The Voice of Germany.

Targeting contestants aged eight to 14, it is currently at the “blind audition” stage where the judges’ chairs are turned towards the audience during performances, enabling them to judge contestants solely on their voices. The winner stands to walk off with an education stipend worth up to ‚15,000 (RM60,000) and the option of recording an album – the latter only with the parents’ express approval.

Having limited my “dumbed-down TV” quota to just Germany’s Next Topmodel – I swear it’s for the clothes! – I recently watched agog as an eight-year-old in a pink, floral dress and matching trainers belted Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire, bringing the oldest of the three judges to tears and down to his knees in adoration.

Doubtless, she is gifted. Yet how far will she go? Will she be able to handle the competition rounds and possible elimination? And what happens after the elation of a possible win? A singing career? At nine? Really?

Speaking on behalf of the media initiative “Schau hin!” (roughly translated: look out), which promotes parental supervision of children’s use of mass media, local media expert Bernd Schorb warned that such “casting shows” can set children up for potential emotional trauma in the event of failure, all whilst in the public eye.

Coincidentally, my April edition of the Glamour magazine carries a story about former child star, Miley Cyrus’ “troubles”. Psychologist Caroline Bell explained that when a child starts earning vast sums of money or becomes a family’s main breadwinner, “the dynamics at home can be wrong and they may not learn the values that children usually learn”.

Hence the fodder they provide gossip rags with their downward spirals in what is essentially an adult world.

Naturally, the show has its own take. The grating Lena Meyer-Landrut, another judge and herself a former winner of a casting show who went on to represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010, argues that the show is firstly a platform for youngsters to exhibit their talent onstage and have fun. Winning is merely secondary.

Yes. That should explain why some of them even have their vocal coaches as part of their anxious entourage backstage.

It’s also disturbing how some eloquently share on camera their “dreams and aspirations for the future” and how they’ve “worked hard towards getting to this stage” and how they “cannot imagine life after elimination”.

Sadly, no one sees it fit to tell them that childhood also only happens once in a lifetime. Those of us who lived it and grudgingly left it, also have glorious tales to tell.

It may not have involved cameras, screaming fans or sparkly clothes, but it was also was devoid of issues that needn’t have concerned us then like inordinate incomes, pushy parents cum managers and the discordant expectations everybody has of a child performing as an adult but who is judged based on his juvenescence.

Sure there are those who did make it big. Michael Jackson is a notable example. Yet look at the cost.

I never got to be Agnetha Fältskog after all. But I’m also thankful that I was given the time to dream, to play-act and finally to realise my abilities on my terms. All with my sanity and hair intact.

■ Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. Her other ambition at eight was to get through the 10-steps of five stones at one go.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Lifestyle, brenda benedict

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